The Last Castle (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner01/03/2002

Three out of five stars
Running time: 131 mins

The Last Castle is director Rod Lurie’s follow-up to last year’s The Contenders and here, as there, he proves that he can handle a big-name cast and tell an entertaining story, providing you don’t ask too many questions along the way.

Robert Redford plays General Irwin – a war hero who disobeyed orders (for heroic reasons, naturally) and has ended up in military prison as a result.

Initially, the warden, Colonel Winter (James 'Tony Soprano’ Gandolfini) respects Irwin, remarking to an orderly that they should have given him the medal of honour instead of a prison sentence.

However, once Winter overhears Irwin telling the same orderly that his (Winter’s) collection of military memorabilia "could only belong to a man who has never set foot on a battlefield", his pride is wounded and he sets out to push Irwin as far as possible, principally by bullying the other inmates, until eventually Irwin is driven to organise the inmates into a rebellion.

The Last Castle happily trots out a string of clichés familiar from movies such as Cool Hand Luke (Winter makes Irwin repeatedly carry rocks from one end of the prison yard to the other) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (organising a rebellion against authority, some of the characters etc), yet, to his credit, Lurie makes them work and the pacing of the film carries you along nicely - it’s only later on, after you’ve left the cinema, when you find yourself wondering things such as why, in a prison full of convicts, is everyone so damned nice?

Although it’s true that Redford is miscast, he’s still an extremely watchable and engaging actor, even if you don’t quite buy into the rock-carrying scenes.

However, it’s Gandolfini who gives the best performance, suggesting Winter’s entire character (think petulant school bully) with just the merest glimmer of a facial expression – a squint here, a narrowing of the lips there. His performance is by far the best thing in the film.

There is good support, too, particularly from Mark Ruffalo (from You Can Count On Me ) and Clifton Collins Jnr as the ‘dumb kid’ inmate Redford takes under his wing. There is also a brief cameo by Robin Wright Penn as Redford’s estranged daughter, though this particular subplot goes precisely nowhere and is never referred to again.

If you can sit through the various clichés of the script and some of the more laughable sequences, then, you are at least rewarded with a superbly action-packed climax when the prisoners finally strike back using makeshift weapons (though the helicopter scene pushes your suspension of disbelief that little bit too far).

Having said that, you’d be well advised to walk out shortly after the conclusion of the riot scenes, because after that it takes an unwelcome dive into flag-waving patriotism that sours the enjoyment of what has gone before.

With a marginally better-thought-out script, then, this could have been a really great film. Instead it’s an enjoyable enough Saturday night action drama that works better the less you actually think about it, but is still worth seeing for the action sequences and for Gandolfini’s performance.

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The Last Castle (15)
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Content updated: 22/10/2017 01:45

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